Broadway in the Time of Covid
By Naomi Serviss
Broadway and Off-Broadway productions have been shuttered at least until May.
Last year, on March 12, I had tickets for Six, a fresh Broadway musical. A smash in London, Six premiered in Boston to raves. My pandemic-induced disappointment in its cancellation paled in comparison to the devastation felt throughout the theater community.
One day Broadway will rebound, forever transformed. But for now, the theater is really dead, paraphrasing a Simon & Garfunkel lyric.
The last show I attended was The Sound Inside, starring Mary-Louise Parker in a gut-punch performance. Thrilling, mysterious, heartbreaking and funny, that production still haunts my dreams.
I’ve contributed to BroadwayWorld.com for more than seven years. I’ve interviewed the famous and the near-famous. I’ve listened to acclaimed playwrights, actors choreographers, directors, costume, make-up and hair designers. My son Ben and I met Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. Two hours zoomed by when I interviewed Idina Menzel in her dressing room after a Rent matinee. My daughter Emmy and I met Jonathan Larson’s father at a party honoring his late son. Danny Burstein, whose comic timing and nuanced acting has no equal, shared his love of family with me.
I had the divine pleasure of discussing Seven Guitars with August Wilson. Chatted with Jekyll & Hyde’s Robert Cuccioli and rode on an elevator with Patti LuPone. August Wilson’s eviscerating Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom broke my heart in 2013. I interviewed director Kenny Leon when it was staged at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in Lower Manhattan. WNYC and WQXR helped make that production happen. Marion McClinton, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Ebony Jo-Ann transported audiences as they bared the music industry’s racism.
It’s a fun gig.
These days Broadway is reflected only in my rearview mirror. But don’t cry for me, Argentina. I have signed Playbills and photos. I have videos of my kids acting out Gypsy and Miss Saigon. Emmy will launch into Hamilton tunes if I ask nicely.
The plucky Irish Repertory Theatre rolled out virtual productions of storied plays and musicals. Emmy and I watched Meet Me in St. Louis virtually together.
Still, I pine for live theater, as I suspect you do, too. I don’t miss subway schlepping or loud audience coughers or self-centered candy unwrappers. The torturous seats and inflated concession prices are not fondly recalled. Do I have to even bring up the restrooms?
I peruse photos of Ben on stage of Beauty and the Beast, Terrence Mann in full makeup. Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday, Natasha Richardson in Cabaret.
Ben and I sat at an onstage table during Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. We were blown away by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. We rode a freight elevator to catch Aasif Mandvi’s modestly brilliant Sakina’s Restaurant. And were awed by Ben Platt’s breakout performance in Dear Evan Hanson.
Michael Cerveris in Tommy was astonishing. His Fun Home performance was heartbreaking.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have taken the kids to Tokyo Shock Boys, which I will refrain from explaining.
Months from now, theater lovers will cautiously inch back to Midtown, masked and distanced. Half-price tickets will beckon, Playbills will be thumbed through and restaurants will dangle pre-theater deals.
And with a little bit of luck, Emmy and I will sit side by side in less uncomfortable seats, squeeze each other’s hands and watch Six take center stage.
The author and her family, in their travels through the Broadway community
Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com